The Massillon Museum has been on my radar even before I was passed on a job opportunity for not being absolutely bonkers for football.* That experience made me more curious (though slightly less interested in the museum content) but the trip was put on the back-burner for one reason or another.
Then I was absolutely less curious about the Massillon Museum after I saw the documentary, The Conservation Game and was educated on the part/history the city/school has/had in the mistreatment of big cats.†
In any event, it was an Instagram post announcing the final days of an exhibit in their Studio M Gallery that piqued my curiosity again and I found myself driving to MassMu (as they call it) to experience what this “small town museum” (their words) had to offer.
The MUSEUM: Massillon Museum
The museum was easy to get to, conveniently located, and right on a corner diagonal from a rather large and officious looking football mural expanding the entire side of a building. They were not exaggerating about their passion for football.
When I entered the museum the first thing in my sightline was a glass encased gift shop, then a small café (closed, meh), and then the reception desk. The volunteer on duty looked rather absorbed in something so I greeted him so as not to startle him…and he quickly ran down the list of galleries, asked where I was from, and sent me on my way.
After walking through three galleries, it was pretty clear this is a local history museum with some works of art, not an art museum. The realization was a bit disappointing but remembering their tag line is ‘where art and history come together’ (I think history and art would be more accurate…) I adjusted my expectations and moved on. I considered myself fortunate that one of the exhibits featured many photographs that chronicled the towns’ business history. It seems Massillon has done a lot to preserve their storefronts, which made sightseeing all the more interesting later to be able to compare and contrast.
My spirits lifted again when I saw the football gallery was closed for installation or cleaning. The details weren’t necessary- I was happy to continue my stride en route to what I’ll call The Circus Gallery.
My first impression was that it was smaller than I expected; however, it’s exactly what you should expect since you can view all of it on their website. I’ll admit the exhibit was a bit creepy at first, as most circus experiences are, but it became more interesting, and I was more engaged during my second lap around taking a few photographs and searching for some of the hidden stories in the miniature circus display.
From there, through a small doorway, down a ramp, and around a corner, Studio M Gallery is revealed. It’s a decent space for exhibiting a rotating work of local artists and a very welcomed addition and contrast to the rest of the (history) museum. The room is not very wide, more like a bloated hallway, so it doesn’t lend itself to very large works of art but it does facilitate a more intimate if not engulfed experience with the work.
I think Studio M was a smart addition and a great way to represent another common area of interest into the museum; to be a place for everyone, the history buffs, preservation enthusiasts, and creatives. The individuals that operate a local museum bear the burden of being tasked with the expectation to educate, entertain, and serve the community within the areas of local history and art, and also be a suitable place to gather - a school, a museum, and a community center all in one. They are often expected to work these miracles with limited resources, a reduced staff, and a meager budget - no small task. I’m not generally a fan of history museums that masquerade as art museums. Logistically however, and logically, while taking all the above into account, I think it makes sense for a small town to encompass both under one roof, especially since the lines of what is art and what is artifact can be blurry. In my opinion the Massillon Museum does a decent job delineating the two.
A bit underwhelmed with the museum experience I was reluctant to try and find a coffee shop. Mostly because it was Sunday evening, the streets were bare, shops closed, and I wasn’t sure if I would find anything open. I’m so glad I did a search and found the Tremont Coffee Co. - nearby and open.
The CAFE: Tremont Coffee Co.
Approaching the coffee shop on foot, I already loved the outside, but I was blown away after walking through the door. This place is massive! The ambiance and architecture - dark wood, brick walls, high ceilings, garage patio doors - leads me to believe it was a brewery in a former life or the owners simply adopted the aesthetic. Either way, It is a great vibe for a coffee shop. With so many local coffee places shuttering in the last couple years, or suffering abbreviated hours due to staff shortages, it was refreshing (relieving?) to see a large coffee shop with ample breathing room and seating!! I love a cozy coffee shop but don’t always enjoy the experience of sitting chair-back to chair-back with my not-always-so-friendly neighborhood stranger.
I ordered an iced, flat white caramel macchiato with almond milk and meandered. The drink was amazing, the atmosphere was chill, their logo- awesome… I was impressed enough to purchase a button.‡ Also nice - a coffee establishment that has the pleasing aroma of coffee and not the stench of paninis or some other ‘we also serve’ lunch item that hangs in the air and on your clothing for the next 4 hours. I sipped my drink and decided to sit for about an hour before heading home.
I would recommend a day trip to MassMu and a trek around Massillon. Small town vibes are a literal breath of fresh air and there is a pleasant mix of past and present here all within just a few blocks. I would consider returning to MassMu to attend an opening or special event. I would also like to return to photograph the town, but maybe I’ll check it out on a Saturday next time.
* I was quite seriously asked in a panel interview (via teleconference) if I liked football. The justification for the odd question was something to the effect of “…we are a die-hard football town and have a gallery devoted to our high school team. We are gearing up for a large exhibition on football… so…” There were two ways to approach this, and I answered honestly saying, “No, not especially but that shouldn’t be a concern. In truth, a curator isn’t going to love absolutely everything about every exhibit they work on, but their opinion should not impede their ability to produce high quality exhibitions that educate, inspire and entertain.” My answer was met with silence and predicably, I didn’t get an offer. It’s just as well. Ironic that I was working at a museum in Alabama at the time, in a city where they will ask any newcomer three questions #1) what church are you affiliated with; #2) what is your family name; and #3) Alabama or Auburn?
† I encourage you to DYOR, watch the documentary, and come to your own conclusions. Full disclosure, I was able to meet the directors last year at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival. They are amazing, their story and work are amazing.
‡ I love a good logo and will happily advertise for you by way of your awesome stickers, buttons, patches, keychains etc. If you are a local business with a cool logo, make some cool swag, pass it out. Just saying.